Huskies, ‘Huskers ready to renew rivalry

Two games against Washington represented highs and lows for Nebraska in 2010.

Another meeting with the Huskies on Saturday could set the tone for the rest of the 11th-ranked Cornhuskers’ 2011 season.

The Huskers haven’t been overly impressive in beating Chattanooga and Fresno State, and Big Red fans are wondering if their team was overhyped when it was picked to win the Big Ten in its first year in the conference.

For being so far apart geographically, Washington and Nebraska have a history of playing meaningful games.

In 1991 the Huskies came back from a 21-9 deficit to win 36-21 in Lincoln and launch their run to a shared national championship with Miami.

In 1997 the Huskers went to Seattle and beat a second-ranked Washington team 27-14 to position themselves for their split national title with Michigan in Tom Osborne’s last year as coach.

Now the teams play each other for a third time in two seasons – the sixth time since 1997 that two teams from different conferences have done so, according to STATS LLC.

Nebraska has been waiting for this one since its embarrassing Holiday Bowl loss.

”I’ve never been a big guy into revenge or anything like that,” offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said Monday, ”but I think we have a chip on our shoulders as a team. It’s something that has sat in the back of our heads since last December, how we finished the season.”

Nebraska played perhaps its best game of the year in a 56-21 win in Seattle last September. The Huskers amassed 533 yards of total offense, and Taylor Martinez received mention as a Heisman Trophy candidate after he ran for 137 yards and three touchdowns.

Following their loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game came the news that they would be pitted against Washington again at the Holiday Bowl. The game elicited a ”been-there-done-that” reaction from the Huskers.

Martinez, playing with toe and ankle injuries, was sacked four times and netted 23 yards rushing yards in a 19-7 loss. The Huskers had 156 yards of total offense.

”I guess they came out and played harder than us,” Martinez said. ”Maybe we thought since the very first game we beat them so bad that the second game we (could be) lackadaisical about it and we’d come out and stomp them. It didn’t happen that way.”

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian downplayed revenge as an issue for Nebraska.

”No, it matters maybe for the fans in the build-up, but at the end of the day the whistle is going to blow, we’re going to kick off or they’re going to kick off and we’re going to play football,” he said. ”I don’t think revenge plays a factor. It didn’t play a factor in the Holiday Bowl and I don’t think it’s going to play a factor in this game.”

The Huskers are looking for sharper performances on both sides of the ball this week.

Their new no-huddle offense struggled to find rhythm and the line didn’t create much push in a season-opening 40-7 win over FCS member Chattanooga.

Last week Fresno State generated 444 yards and was within 28-26 early in the fourth quarter before Nebraska won 42-29, thanks in large part to Ameer Abdullah’s 100-yard kickoff return. Robbie Rouse’s 169 yards rushing were the fourth most by a running back against Nebraska in Lincoln.

Predictably, Nebraska fans are worried that their team isn’t as good as they thought.

Coach Bo Pelini said he doesn’t care what the fans think.

”I mean, there’s consternation around here if you don’t win 50-0 every week,” Pelini said. ”That’s just part of the deal. I look at the reality of where we are and where we need to go to get better and to get wins. That’s all I focus my efforts on.

”If I start worrying what the public thinks, I’ll end up in a rubber room probably.”

Pelini agrees, however, that the Huskers need to get better.

”No matter what, I didn’t think we’d be the finished product after two games, and you keep working,” he said. ”I’m seeing improvement in some areas. I’m not seeing enough improvement in other areas.”

The Huskers play Washington (2-0) and at Wyoming (2-0) before Big Ten play begins at No. 7 Wisconsin on Oct. 1.

I-back Rex Burkhead said the sense of urgency is increasing.

”The Big Ten is going to be no joke,” he said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.